Muscat – Oman and Saudi Arabia are working together to conserve the Arabian leopard – classified as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

The dwindling numbers of this elusive feline underscore a pressing need for concerted conservation efforts across its native habitat, the Arabian Peninsula.

Dr Hadi bin Muslim al Hakmani, a leading figure in Arabian leopard conservation with over two decades of experience, shed light on the dire situation. “The leopard’s range has diminished to a mere 2% of its historic expanse, primarily due to direct killings, loss of prey and habitat destruction.”

This decline has led to the leopard’s extinction in several regions, including Palestine, Jordan, the UAE, northern Oman, and significant portions of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Current estimates suggest fewer than 120 Arabian leopards remain in the wild, including 50 in Oman and Yemen each and around 20 in Saudi Arabia.

Hakmani, who is currently working with Wildlife and Natural Heritage at the Royal Commission for Al Ula, Saudi Arabia, highlighted the ongoing cooperation between Oman and Saudi Arabia. This includes the exchange of leopards between breeding centres to preserve genetic diversity and enhance conservation capabilities. “It’s a challenging task to study such a solitary and elusive creature, reliant on indirect methods like camera traps and radio tracking,” Hakmani explained, noting the adverse effects of infrastructure development on leopard habitats, especially in the mountains of Dhofar.

Hakmani’s work has contributed to a comprehensive study on the genetic diversity of the Arabian leopard, involving samples from across its range. This study provided crucial data for developing effective conservation strategies.

Oman’s commitment to this cause is evident through initiatives aimed at raising community awareness, studying the leopard, and protecting its habitat, Hakmani informed. The establishment of natural reserves such as Jabal Samhan and Khor Kharfut, alongside compensation programmes for livestock predation by leopards, showcases Oman’s dedication to preserving this rare species.

“Similarly, Saudi Arabia’s efforts encompass the establishment of reserves, the reintroduction of leopards to their historical habitats, and comprehensive studies to understand and protect the Arabian leopard in the wild. The kingdom houses approximately 27 leopards in the Arabian Leopard Breeding Centre in Al Ula, underscoring its commitment to the species’ survival.”

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